Nature vs Nurture

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Ajournalist once asked the behavioral psychologist Donald Hebb whether a person’s genes or environment mattered most to the development of personality. Hebb replied that the question was akin to asking which feature of a rectangle—length or width—made the most important contribution to its area. The “nature vs. nurture” conundrum was reinvigorated when genes were identified as the units of heredity, containing information that directs and influences development. When the human genome was sequenced in 2001, the hope was that all such questions would be answered. In the intervening decade, it has become apparent that there are many more questions than before. We’ve reached a point where most people are savvy enough to know that the correct response isn’t “nature” or “nurture,” but some combination of the two. Yet scientists and laymen alike still spend too much time and effort trying to quantify the relative importance of nature and nurture. Recent advances in neuroscience make a compelling case for finally abandoning the nature vs. nurture debate to focus on understanding the mechanisms through which genes and environments are perpetually entwined throughout an individual’s lifetime. As neurobiologists who study stress, we believe that research in this area will help reframe the study of human nature. Researchers have historically approached the study of stress from two perspectives: 1) a physiological account of the stress response, which consists of tracking the stress hormone cortisol and its effects on metabolism, immune function, and neural processes; and 2) a psychological/cognitive focus on how the perception and experience of a stressor influences the stress response. These approaches align with the nature vs. nurture debate, pitting nature, represented by the biology of cortisol responses, against nurture, in the form of external experience influencing cognitive processing. Academic researchers typically study stress by adopting one of these perspectives....
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